by Matthew Barber based on the novel by Elizabeth von Arnim.

The Mill at Sonning Sonning Eye nr Reading RG4 6TY To 17 May 2014.
Tue-Sat Dinner 6.30pm + Performance 8.15pm.
Mat Sat & 27 April, 11 May Lunch 12.30pm + Performance 2.15pm.
Runs 2hr 20min One interval.

TICKETS: 0118 969 8000.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 13 April.

Bad marriages and lost lives made good in a fine novel adaptation.
This 2000 adaptation of a 1922 novel arrives at Sonning fresh as a daisy and colourful as the wisteria bedecking the Italian castle which four disparate English ladies rent one spring month. There is, in Matthew Barber’s adaptation, humour and plangency, both evident and well-balanced in Sally Hughes’ lively and warm Sonning production.

Described as being in two acts, it’s more a prologue followed by a single substantial act. Short scenes before the interval evoke the quiet desperation of emotionally unfulfilled women in Hampstead. Lotte, maintaining a sense of hope through visions of the future, persuades a near stranger to share her Italian month. To cut costs they advertise for two more companions, bringing in a beautiful young aristocrat taking to drink and an older women protecting herself by protocols and self-assertion against the world.

Lotte’s loveless marriage with solicitor Mellersh is economically evoked, thanks partly to a splendid performance from Martyn Stanbridge as a stuffed shirt with a comic edge (the character becomes the focus of broader humour later), though the comic fuse lit by her friend Rose’s philandering husband with his nom de plume later fizzles out.

These scenes, and those where the other women join the party, are set against a dull plain wall which enforces the sense of dreary life in England. Designer Eileen Diss transforms the stage for the second, Italian act. In a burst of light and life, bare wooden tables are replaced by coverings with white tablecloths and decorations, along with a high trail of the promised wisteria.

Gradually, life is rekindled in the damp English souls by Italy’s heat, light and exuberance (even in her cussedest moments local servant Costanza has an energy contrasting the Englishwomen’s inertia when they arrive), though Francesca Bailey’s suavely withdrawn Lady Caroline and Hildegard Neil’s ramrod-upright Mrs Graves take time to unfurl, as does the Rose of Melanie Gutteridge.

Only Rose’s black clothing in England made Lotty’s uniform grey seem brighter by comparison. In Italy, Lotty’s optimistic energy, caught with a sense of inner conviction by Sarah Edwardson, is the soul of a sharply-observed and generous evening.

Lotty Wilton: Sarah Edwardson.
Rose Arnott: Melanie Gutteridge.
Mellersh Wilton: Martyn Standbridge.
Frederick Arnott: Jai Armstrong.
Lady Caroline Bramble: Francesca Bailey.
Mrs Graves: Hildegard Neil.
Anthony Wilding: Christopher Leveaux.
Costanza: Anna-Maria Everett.

Director: Sally Hughes.
Designer: Eileen Diss.
Lighting: Matthew Biss.
Composer: Jo Stewart.
Costume: Jane Kidd.

2014-04-15 10:43:45

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